Cornell Lab Releases Unprecedented Video of the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper

by Larry Jordan on February 7, 2013

Ithaca, N.Y. February 7, 2013 – The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has collected the first known comprehensive video documentation of one of the world’s rarest birds on its tundra breeding grounds in Chukotka, Russia, and posted the video online at Cornell Lab videographer Gerrit Vyn captured footage of the first moments when Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks venture away from their nest.

I have posted just one of the four videos posted on the Cornell Lab site, including the cutest video of the chicks leaving the nest.

The little spoon-bills are some of the last of their kind. The global Spoon-billed Sandpiper population has plummeted to about 100 breeding pairs, with the population declining by 25 percent annually in recent years. At that rate, the species could be extinct within a decade. The spoon-bill topped a recent International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) global list of species closest to extinction.

“The Spoon-billed Sandpiper is one of the most remarkable little birds on earth, and it may go extinct before most people even realize it was here,” said Dr. John Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “We hope that with this priceless video footage we quickly connect people, conservation organizations, and governments to these amazing birds, and galvanize an international conservation effort.”

In 2011, the Cornell Lab dispatched videographer Gerrit Vyn to join an expedition with Birds Russia and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force to Chukotka in extreme northeastern Russia where the tundra borders the Bering Sea. Vyn’s assignment was to record the first-ever high-definition video and sound recordings of spoon-bills on their breeding grounds, for archival into the Lab’s Macaulay Library (the world’s oldest and largest biodiversity media archive). Vyn spent eight weeks during the months of June and July documenting their breeding cycle, from arriving on spring migration to courtship and nesting to raising young (videos posted at

Vyn wrote about his experience in an article for the winter 2013 issue of the Lab’s Living Bird magazine. “These videos, still photographs, and sound recordings might well be the 21st-century digital equivalent of a Passenger Pigeon specimen in a museum. But…I wanted my videos and photographs to be more than just a final record of a lost species for the archives. I hoped they would serve as a way to finally introduce this enigmatic and charming species to the world—to enlist peoples’ aid in a global effort to save the Spoon-billed Sandpiper.”

Scientists believe Spoon-billed Sandpipers are declining primarily because of the elimination of migratory stopover habitat along Southeast Asian seacoasts, particularly in the Yellow Sea region, and due to subsistence hunting by people on spoon-bill wintering grounds on the coastal mudflats of China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and other nearby countries.

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper population has been monitored on their breeding grounds on the Russian tundra since 1977, when a survey estimated 2,500 breeding pairs in Chukotka. By 2003 the population had dropped to around 500 pairs. In 2008 the IUCN listed the species as critically endangered on its Red List.

Vyn said that he hopes the plight of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper also awakens global attention to the crisis along the entire East Asian–Australasian Flyway, where an estimated 51 percent of China’s coastal wetlands have been lost, as well as 60 percent of South Korea’s coastal wetlands. More than 100 waterbird species use the East Asian–Australasian Flyway, and it contains more IUCN-listed globally threatened and near threatened bird species than any other flyway in the world.

“Through its devastating population crash, the tiny Spoon-billed Sandpiper is telling us that the Yellow Sea is rapidly passing the tipping point,” wrote Vyn.

Vyn’s participation in the expedition was funded by contributions by The Melinda Whener estate to the Cornell Lab.

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Media Resources:

Video: Clips at may be embedded in your site and include scenes of courtship, foraging, and the hatching of chicks. To get embed code, right-click on video and choose “copy embed html,” then paste.

Still Images: Photos for print or web available, including the images in the release.

Sound Files: Professional quality audio recordings of more than a dozen vocalizations given by the Spoon-billed Sandpiper as well as other bird species and atmospheric recordings from the nesting grounds.

For interviews with Gerrit Vyn and spoon-bill images and sounds, please contact Pat Leonard, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, (607) 254-2137,

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Wally February 8, 2013 at 10:36 am

Great post, Larry. Another species we all need to be concerned about.


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